Friday, June 20, 2014

Uruguay Dashes England's Hopes - Time for Some Tannat


Time for another venture into World Cup wines. The latest game to catch my eye - as an excuse for opening a bottle of wine was Uruguay's 2-1 win over England. The South American team's win more-or-less killed England's chances of advancing to the next stage, but I'll leave the English fans to drown their sorrows in excessive pints, I'm pulling the cork on a boutique Uruguayan wine that I was given at  last year's Wine Blogger's Conference in Penticton.

During the WBC13 conference, I had a number of opportunities to chat with Leslie Fellows, the very personable Director of Sales for Artesana - a premium producer of wine in Uruguay that, understandably, focuses heavily on the Tannat variety. Luckily for me, Leslie is American and speaks English. I say, "luckily," because my Spanglish stops at "Buenos Dias Muchacho" and "dos cervezas por favour" - although I have mastered the fact that "vino tinto"  is "red wine" in Spanish. A handy phrase to know, I'm sure.

1638.  2011 Artesana Tannat-Merlot (Uruguay)

Artesana is a premium producer located in the Canelones region of Uruguay. Admittedly (and despite an interesting luncheon presentation at WBC13), my knowledge of Uruguayan wines more-or-less starts and ends with Tannat. I wouldn't know one wine producing region from another - or that there even are different regions in the country for that matter. The winery website, however, states that the Canelones region is just a short distance outside of the national capital Montevideo and is the "premier wine growing region in Uruguay and home to the majority of the country's vineyards...[with] growing conditions similar to France's Bordeaux region."

 Artesana is a relatively new enterprise and its first vineyard blocks were planted with Tannat, Merlot and Zinfandel in 2007 and 2008 - with the Zin being the first planting of the variety in Uruguay. Cabernet Franc vines were later planted in 2013 to provide additional blending options in the years to come. The winery currently offers five or six wines, including Tannat and Zinfandel varietal wines and this Tannat-Merlot blend.

The back label says that the 2011 vintage is a 60%-40% blend with Tannat providing the bigger proportion. The website goes further to say that the Merlot and Tannat blocks were fermented separately and aged in a mixture of new and used American and French oak for twelve months. The wines were then "blended and bottled without fining or filtration and bottle-aged an additional eight months."

We thought the wine was quite delightful - full of lovely, dark fruit - and, while you definitely noticed the tannins, they were far from overpowering.

There were only 580 cases of this wine made - out of a total production of 1250 cases - but the winery is aiming for a 4000 case capacity by 2016.

I've yet to see Artesana in the Vancouver market but I, for one, would be happy to see that happen.

The Uruguayan soccer team should only wish to be as successful on the field for the rest of the World Cup as this wine was in the glass.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Boo's Birthday

Boo's birthday has come around yet again and, as the birthday boy, he got to choose the restaurant we dined at - with one caveat, it had to be within walking distance. Luckily, The Drive has a more than ample list to choose from. He went with Carthage Café as it's been years since we've dined there. Indeed, I think we went opening weekend and, oops, we might not have been back since.

Boo didn't decide on where we were going until just before we needed to leave; so, we were lucky they still had a table open. Knowing that the cuisine is a blend of Tunisia and France, I grabbed a bottle of Bordeaux that we've been holding on to for a bit of an occasion dinner.

Thank goodness for the fact that BYO wine has finally arrived for BC restaurants.

1637.  2006 Château Gloria (Saint-Julien AOC - France)

We've opened a bottle of the 2004 vintage some years back - like over a thousand bottles ago and close to the start of the blog. The '04 was added to The List at #295 and I talked a bit of general lore on the winery during that post. So, in the interest of a quick post - and rather than simply repeating my earlier post - I'll just include a link to that post and anyone interested in the winery can take a look at there as well.

I have to admit that I wanted to like the wine more than I did. It wasn't a "Gloria, Hallelujah" moment for me but, then, I knew beforehand that the wine would likely be more akin to Boo's palate than mine - and it was his birthday after all.

I think I just would have enjoyed sipping the wine on its own more if it had a little more fruit front and centre. It's funny how Boo's palate leads more to a more austere, Old World wine while I tend to go for that bigger, New World fruit. I will give the wine its due, however, it paired nicely with our main courses - steak au poivre and lamb & chicken kebabs. Of which, there was an awful lot. Good thing we had just the big bellies to pack away all that food.

Naturally, there had to be a flaw in the evening. Otherwise, it would have seemed just a little too good. Luckily, it wasn't the restaurant, the food or even the wine. Rather, it was the fact that I was trying to use my new credit card for the first time since there'd been a changeover in the issuing bank. The card was declined and, as embarrassing as that was in itself, after waiting a good 15 minutes on hold to speak to someone at the bank, I gave up and had to get Boo to pay for his own birthday dinner.

Sorry about that sweetie. Maybe I'd best let you pick the next restaurant as well - and lord it over me that I'll always be the older one in the couple. And, at least you liked the wine. Happy Happy!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Traditions In the Hood

Gatu Bela is back in town. And that calls for a drink (like I need an excuse).

Gatu Bela was our neighbour for decade and the number of conversations we had over the fence or through the kitchen window are legion. It's always an occasion when she returns to Vancouver and the Lower Mainland from her new seasonal home in Mexico. Gatu Bela has declared that, after ten years, there will be no Mexican Cat Dance fundraiser this year but it might just have been replaced with another tradition, lawn sushi.

What started out as an impromptu gathering last summer when Gatu Bela was visiting the old hood seems to have morphed into an annual event - on a slightly grander scale to boot. Last year's six-some grew to all of the regular neighbourhood gang who were free on a Tuesday night. Okay, so the weather wasn't as sunny as it was last year and not many actually ate outside on the lawn, it was still a fun opportunity to catch up, eat a little raw, dead fish and add another couple of bottles to The List.

1635.  2013 River Stone Malbec Rosé (VQA Okanagan Valley)

River Stone Estate was a pleasant surprise from the Half Corked Half that Mr. Cool and I ran back in May. I was lucky to get one of the last pours of Cornerstone, River Stone's premium Meritage wine, at the pasta party the night before the race and the winery was manning one of the later "water" stations during the race. By that point of the race, I was welcoming any excuse for a bit of rest/sip.

I can't recall having run across their wines previously; so, Mr. Cool, Mimster and I stopped in for a tasting before we made our way home from the race. I picked up a handful of River Stone wines and this is the first that I'm adding to The List - after all, don't Rosé and summer nights go hand in hand?

We don't really see Malbec Rosé coming out of the Okanagan. It might be a common pour in Argentina but not so much here. You can add this to the more food friendly side of the BC Rosé spectrum - as opposed to the simple patio sippers. The wine was bold in its acidity and its tendency towards rhubarb than to the strawberries and sweet plums that often show in BC Rosé. I'm more than happy to go the food route with my Rosé though. And, I'll look forward to pulling the cork on the other River Stone wines that we picked up.

1636.  N.V. Maison L. Traminer & Fils - Roncier (France)

I'm not sure which of the neighbours brought this non-vintage red but it garnered a bit of a buzz amongst some of the crowd. I dare say, however, that the earthiness of the wine was better on its own than it ever would have been with the sushi. I'm also a little surprised that the gang was as enamoured with an Old World vin de table Pinot Noir. Maybe it was the fact that it was fleshed out a bit with some Syrah that tipped the palate for the general populace.

Again, another producer that I was unaware of, but that's what I like about seeing what other folks bring to the table. It's a great way to try new wines and new producers.

My favourite part of the evening though may not have been the wine but the great laugh we all had as a discussion topic moved on to Twitter. Gatu Bela does not tweet - although life in Mexico could be an interesting starting point - and she asked what "hagtashing" means. Baby Mama (who has quite a following under her real name) tweeted that out amidst the laughter and she received a great response, "BE HER FRIEND. They have been immersed in more useful things."

Words to take to heart. Perhaps I need to spend more time on blog entries than trying to build a Twitter following. Or, maybe more to the point, I need to limit my blog posts to 140 characters. It'd be a whole lot easier to keep up if I were to try that. 

Food for thought.

And on that happy note, I'll hagtash it out of here. 

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

English Doc Hits a Landmark

When did I start getting so old?

Not that I'm one to announce a lady's age, but today was the first of what's likely going to be a common occurrence in the days and years to dome. English Doc turned 60 and a gaggle of folks gathered to celebrate in that landmark birthday way. We've still got a batch of good friends' 50th b-days to come this year. So, a 60th was a bit of a wake up call. I'm not so sure that I'm ready to be hit with an even bigger decade.

Good thing there was plenty of wine to help us get through the shock. The primary pours were mimosas - and I'll admit to having joined in for a couple but I didn't grab shots of the bottles for The List because there were all Prosecco's that have already been added. Tasty? Yes. But that "silly" rule of mine says that a bottle can only be added once to The List - unless the additional bottle is a different vintage or a different size.

Of course, there were still other bottles to add.

1633.  2011 Falernia Reserva Carmenère (Valle de Elqui D.O. - Chile)

The Olivier family emigrated to Chile from northern Italy in 1951 to start life anew in the Elqui Valley. Working in agriculture from the start, the family started growing grapes in the early 1970's. The grapes, however, were destined for the production of Pisco, Chile's national spirit. After a few years of selling their grapes to other producers, the family established its own Pisco company, only to see it grow into the third largest Pisco producer in the country.

The winery's website states that in 1995, family member, Aldo Olivier, met a cousin, Giorgio Flessati, who was working in the wine industry back in Italy. Together, they founded Falernia - Chile's most northerly wine estate - in an innovative effort to transform "a tract of desert into a green vineyard." The winery now offers a wide selection of wines featuring over a dozen varieties.

I suppose it only makes sense that one of the wines offered is a Carmenère. It is, after all, the grape that first heralded Chile's arrival on the international wine scene. This particular bottling also incorporates some of the family's Italian heritage in that it is made using the appasimento method, whereby the grapes are harvested very late in the season in order to concentrate the grape juices and then left to partially dry to further increase that concentration. I hadn't known this production method had been used before I tried the wine. Had I known, that might have explained the intensity of the wine. It was quite the contrast to all the mimosas that were flowing. Talk about your opposite ends of the spectrum.


The highlight of the event was the introduction and explanation of the most spectacular of birthday cakes. In what has become a bit of a trademark for them, Lady Di and She Who Must Be Obeyed put together an homage to English Doc's first sixty years.

With a little bit of help from Axel, English Doc's main squeeze, Lady Di and SWMBO tracked down and incorporated at least eight of the cars and bikes that Doc has owned over the years. They worked in his love of the slopes (although I don't think he's ever snowboarded - but I guess you can't find a Ken doll on skis), scuba and travelling. They were hardly about to let him escape the fact that he was the first to turn 60 though. There was more than a handful of dinosaurs to be found on various stages of the cake.

Hopefully, Doc was able to get over the shock of how much dirt the girls had dug up from his past and realized that they've only done this a handful of times - and only for the biggest of birthdays. Indeed, I'm not sure that I've been party to one of their "this is your life" cakes since Boo turned 40 and that was more than a couple of years ago.

Furthermore, you'll just have to believe me when I tell you that this was also the most incredibly delicious cake as well. They could serve this to me any single day of the year - birthday or otherwise, and that comes from a guy that doesn't eat much cake.

1634.  2011 Bella Sparkling Chardonnay (Okanagan Valley)

Of course, there was a bit of a birthday toast to the birthday boy - and I made sure that there was no orange juice mixed with this bubble.

Bella is a most interesting addition to the BC wine scene. The 2011 vintage is the enterprise's first bottling as they seek to establish themselves as BC's first sparkling only winery. Sparkling wines haven't always been foremost on the list of skews for BC winemakers - even though producers like Blue Mountain and Sumac Ridge have shown for years that BC can make some very tasty bubblies. More and more wineries are joining the ranks of effervescence though.

Starting off with the Chardonnay and a Gamay Noir Rosé, this first attempt saw Bella purchase grapes and enlist the help of winemaker, Michael Bartier, and the Okanagan Crush Pad facilities. The virtual winery only saw 275 cases at the end of their initial production run but the reaction has been most favourable. The intent was to double the 2012 output and, ultimately, hit a goal of 3000 cases annually.

I don't know if the Bella paired up with the sweetness of the cake as much as the lighter, sweeter Proseccos that were also being served. The Sparkling Chardonnay showed some serious citrus and acidity and was clearly a serious sip. I'll look forward to seeing how the winery evolves.

And, on that note of evolving over time, I guess there's just no turning back time. It's just something I'll have to live with. After all, it is better than the alternative. I'll just have to hope the wine will keep flowing and we'll all be able to keep knocking it back as the years continue to add up.

Happy Happy Doc.

Monday, June 16, 2014

The Germans Arrive at the World Cup


Another World Cup match. Another wine to celebrate a big win. Today's game featured two of the early favourites - Germany and Portugal - but I don't think anyone would have come close to predicting a 4-0 win for Germany. There may be a whack of Portugese fans drowning their sorrows tonight but the German win calls for a German wine.

It's likely a good thing that Germany won because the wine needed to pair with the chirashi sushi bowl that we were serving up for dinner. Something tells me that a German Riesling is an infinitely tastier match to the evening's seafood than a big Portugese red or Port could ever be. To further complicate the flavour profile needed, our chirashi bowl was uncharacteristically loaded with uni (sea urchin gonads for the uninitiated) - not that I'd have any concept of what goes best with uni. Other than to guess that maybe sake or beer would work since those are the most common beverages in the Japanese restaurants I've been to.

Why sea urchin? You may ask. While at the Steveston docks the other day, I ran across a fisherman selling live urchins at the bargain price of three for $10. I don't think I've ever seen live sea urchin for sale before. Despite the fact that uni would not the first dish I order in a restaurant, I pretty well had to buy them.

What I didn't know is that the little guy's spines keep moving even after you cut into the shell. I can definitely tell you now though - should you be so inclined to try this at home - that digging out the gonads is not the easiest or cleanest kitchen activity, but it was certainly an interesting hour or so.

Luckily, the wine was much easier to open.

1632.  2012 Dönnhoff - Höllenpfad Riesling (Trocken - Nahe - Germany)

A buddy of mine, Bug Boy, has been making regular trips to Germany lately for family reasons and I asked him how he's enjoying all the Rieslings that he must be bringing home. He'd looked at me and said that it hadn't dawned on him to bring back a single bottle because he doesn't drink the stuff. A couple weeks later, he showed up on my door step with a couple bottles - this baby included.

As much as Riesling and I are the best of friends, I don't tend to drink a lot of German Riesling - likely because I'm just not familiar with the producers and I assume that the majority of German Rieslings found on Vancouver shelves are generic brand wines - unless they're priced well in excess of a Tuesday night. I knew nothing of tonight's wine before opening it.

It would appear that the Dönnhoff family has owned a modest estate in the Nahe region for over 250 years. Helmut Dönnhoff, the current owner, has been at the helm of the winery since 1971 and is renowned in the region - and country - to the point of being named "German Winemaker of the Year" in 1999.

Despite the pedigree behind the winery, the Höllenpfad vineyard is a recent addition to the family's holdings and this 2012 is only the second vintage for Dönnhoff. I quite liked reading that "Höllenpfad" translates to "path to hell" in English. The winery website notes that the name appears to have originated from all the hellishly hard work involved in growing and harvesting grapes on the very steep slope and/or from the fact that the vineyard soil is largely made up of red sandstone and, in the evening, it reflects the setting sun, casting a red glow as you look back upon the vineyard.

The wine was all minerality and lime and was austere enough that I might have taken it for one of the many Aussie Reislings I've thrown back over the years. This was far from your mother's Blue Nun or Black Tower (which I think might still be around although I doubt the flavour profile is the same as it was back in the 80's). The website states that a portion of the wine sees some ageing in oak barrels as well as stainless steel. I didn't catch any notes of the oak myself but I understand Orofino, one of our favourite BC wineries, ages one of its Rieslings with some oak exposure as well. So, I suppose ageing Riesling in oak isn't necessarily all that foreign of a concept after all.

The Riesling might not have been the perfect match for uni but I still figure it was a far better accompaniment than Port. So, bravo for the German win and to the German wine it prompted. If this match is any indication of the tournament to come, there should be plenty more opportunities for German wines.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

A Syrah to Celebrate Chile's World Cup Quest


Finally a World Cup match where both of the countries playing produce wine that's readily available in the Vancouver market. Indeed, with the Chile vs. Australia match, we had a healthy selection of wines, from either country, to choose from. Both countries are known for their Shiraz/Syrah wines and we just happened to have a couple on hand.

Chile won the game by a 3-1 score. So, I grabbed a Syrah from the Aconcagua Valley, just north of Santiago.

1631.  2008 Errazuriz - Single Vineyard Don Maximiano Estate Syrah (Aconcagua Valley - Chile)

The final score isn't all that surprising. Chile was supposed to win on the soccer pitch. I think, as a Syrah/Shiraz producer, however, the result still might have favoured Australia - but then, I've been partial to Aussie Shiraz ever since it started making it to our shores and long before [yellow tail] kind of changed the whole landscape for Aussie wine. But that's for another day. Chile is putting a lot of effort into into making a name for its Syrah and, with wines like this one, they may well start to challenge the Aussies.

Errazuriz, of course, is one of the biggest players in Chile and they cover the gamut from basic entry level, value wines to icon wines that can rival the best wines from any region. This Syrah is one from the middle ground and, being a single vineyard, varietal wine from the home vineyard, it's meant to showcase a particular aspect of what Errazuriz has to offer.

We thought the ripe, dark fruit and structure showed through nicely and it was a pleasant reminder of the grand tour that Boo and I had at Errazuriz when we spent our one full day in Chile (while en route to Argentina from Peru) touring the Aconcagua Valley (blog post from back then). The Don Maximiano vineyard was stunning with plenty of stories to be discovered given its over 130 years history.

Opening this bottle prompted me to take a quick look back at some of our photos from our visit there. Two memories immediately popped into mind: 1) we didn't have nearly enough time to take in everything that Errazuriz had to offer (and we were a half hour longer than our tour had planned) and 2) I was enthralled with the wide array of cacti that were interspersed among the vines. I can't recall having seen that anywhere else.

So, a nice Chilean Syrah to add to The List and a great start for the Chileans' World Cup quest with a big win on the soccer pitch.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Azzuri Win Calls For New Italian Fave


If nothing else, you know that the 2014 World Cup is going to provide a few intriguing games - both from the teams involved and from the location of the venues. We're still in the opening weekend and fans from around the world were transported to Manaus and the middle of the Amazon jungle for England versus Italy. Whether you're barracking for England or the Azzurri, this was a big game by any standards.

Picking a wine to represent these teams is somewhat pre-determined in the Vancouver market. We have plenty of Italian wines to choose from. Not so with English wines. I know that there are English wines out there - particularly bubblies - because I've actually added one to The List (at #1325) but that bottle was a gift from visiting Brits. I'd be surprised to see anything on any local shelves.

As such I picked a unique wine to toast the Italian 2-1 win.

1630.  2008 Falesco - Ferentano (Lazio IGT - Italy)

If memory serves, I read something about this wine being made from an extremely rare grape. Forever on the lookout for grapes to add to my Wine Century Club tally, I figured this would be as good a time as any to open it. Pasta with our first spot prawns of the season called out for Italian white.

Turns out this is a winner - just like the Azzurri were on the day. And it would seem that calling this a "rare" grape is barely setting the stage. Ferentano is a 100% varietal wine featuring the Roscetto grape and the winery, Falesco, may be the only winery in the world that grows and markets it.

Roscetto is enough of a rarity that it doesn't even merit a reference in Jancis Robinson's tome, Wine Grapes, although 1368 other grapes did.

Robinson's website, Purple Pages, however, has written a bit about the grape when they reviewed an earlier vintage of this wine. The grape is apparently indigenous to Lazio province in central Italy and it was close to extinction in the 1960's. Rob Tebeau, on his Fringe Wine blog, reported that Roscetto is so rare that it is grown in a single location and made by a single producer - Falesco.

Falesco, itself, was only established in 1979 and it set the promotion of indigenous grapes as a pillar of its business plan. At first, they used Roscetto as part of the winery's Est! Est! Est! blend, but they decided to produce a full varietal wine in 1998.

The grape gets its name from the fact that it turns pinkish red when fully ripe. The primary reason it fell into disfavour with growers appears to be the fact it has a low yield of fruit.

The winery acknowledges that it utilizes cyromaceration - a flash freezing of the grapes - followed by a cold soak to accentuate the varietal characteristics. Our wine was rich bodied and creamy - on the lines of a lightly oaked Chardonnay - with plenty of ripe tree fruit coming through. With Falesco being the only producer of Roscetto, it's hard to tell if all Roscetto wines would have this sort of profile. Who knows what the grape would taste like if grown in different conditions? I'd certainly be game to sip back on a couple additional versions - whether they hailed from Lazio or not.

In the mean time, I'll have to see what other World Cup wines I can come up with for the tournament's games. They might not all be as memorable or unique as this one but, then again, not all the games to follow will be as entertaining or important as this one was. Plus, as an added bonus, I get to add the #174 grape to my Wine Century Club tally.

A Toast to a Dear Friend


I suppose it was only fitting that it was such a grey day.

The Boss and I hooked up to head out to Steveston to toast the life of DeeBee, a co-worker from years back. A Celebration of Life was being held and DeeBee's and my friendship - even if it was limited to a working relationship - was definitely one worth celebrating.

Sharp as a tack, hard working, witty, caring and full of life, DeeBee was everything a guy could ask for in a friend and colleague. And, what's more, she shared my warped sense of humour. I'll always remember, when our firm moved offices and I found a sign in one of the stairwells. It read, "Place of Refuge" and was meant to indicate a safe zone should the building catch fire. I took the sign and changed the lettering to read "Place of Ill Repute" and hung it at DeeBee's desk. Rather than smack me over the head with it and toss it out, she "proudly" displayed it at her desk for months.

I was truly saddened the day she told me, teary-eyed, that she was taking a different job so that she could move to be closer to her grandchildren. That must have been five or six years ago, but we still kept in touch. She was barely into her 60's and it was a great shock when I learned that she'd suffered a debilitating stroke last October. She never recovered.

So, it's with a heavy heart that I'm adding these two wines to The List.

1628.  2011 Red Rooster Merlot (VQA Okanagan Valley)

1629.  2012 Sandhill Pinot Gris (VQA Okanagan Valley)

Funny that the two wines chosen for the Celebration of Life were from two of my favourite BC wineries. It's also funny that, if memory serves, DeeBee was more of Scotch or Rye kind of gal. She likely wouldn't have been drinking the wine at all had she been out with us.

Since I've written many a post on both of these wineries, I think I'll just leave their mention at that this time around. After all, sometimes it's about more than just the wine.

Ironically, indeed cruelly so, this was my first visit to Steveston. For the past two or three years, DeeBee had tried to get Boo and I to come out and wander the dock and have lunch and a drink with her. Scheduling being what it is and the fact that she thought it best not to do it in the summer (too busy) or in the winter (too wet and cold), we never made it. I'm sure I'll get back there again though - and you know that I'll think of DeeBee and toast her all over again.

Here's hoping that they play a lot of Elvis for you in heaven.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Let The Games Begin!


The World Cup has kicked off in Brazil and I suspect my life is going to be rather soccer-centric for the next month - not that I really have that much invested in the event this time around. Once again, our Canadian team has been left on the sidelines, but I do have the office pool to get excited about. And, I suspect that living just off The Drive, in Vancouver's old Little Italy, will see its share of celebration in the street. The size of the celebrations will definitely depend on which teams stay in the race and for how long. Historically, street closures are only needed for the biggest of wins by countries like Italy and Portugal - countries with plenty of ex-pats and presence on The Dive - and superpowers like Brazil and Argentina.

I just realized that, for the last World Cup in 2010, I held a little World Cup of Wine for the blog. That approach of matching the event to the blog totally slipped my mind in the build up to this year's tournament; so, there ain't gonna be anything so adventurous this time around. (Guess I must have had more time on my hands back then.) I think the best I'll manage with this World Cup is to pull the corks on bottles from countries that are playing that day.

Today's opening game is Brazil vs. Croatia. There's only one Brazilian wine available in the Vancouver market and I've already popped the cork on that Moscato bubbly and added the wine to The List. Guess there won't be much celebrating with Brazilian wines this tournament. Alternatively, I'd hoped to find a Croatian wine - because I know they make lots - but I couldn't find a single bottle in the three shops that I dropped by, including the specialty government store.

So much for the grand plan. As an alternative option, I decided to open a Spanish bottle seeing as how Spain is the defending champion and is entering this World Cup as one of the favourites. I know that Spanish wines are certainly a favourite around this household.

1627.  2003 Bodegas Roda - Roda I Reserva (Rioja DOC - Spain)

I'm thinking that the Spanish Soccer Federation spares no expense when it comes to the national team. I get the impression that the same is true of Bodegas Roda. Founded only in 1987, the winery is part of the new wave in Spanish wine. Knowing that they were setting up shop in a region that was awash in traditional wineries, partners Mario Rotllant and Carmen Daurella set out with an objective to attain a premium expression that reflected the tradition of Rioja, yet in a modern style.

They started by obtaining - by either purchase or long-term contact - 28 vineyards throughout Rioja. In their quest to make only the finest wines, each year, the grapes from only 17 of those vineyards - deemed the best in that vintage - are used in making the winery's two Reserva wines: Roda and Roda I. The rest of the grapes are sold to other wineries.

The grapes from each of those 17 vineyards are all vinified and aged independently. At the time of blending, they, therefore, have 17 different wines available, each having spent a year in the barrel. Only varieties indigenous to the region - Tempranillo, Garnacha and Graciano - are grown in the vineyards; however, only Tempranillo is used in making the Roda I.

The new venture was noticed for bringing modern techniques into both the vineyard and the winery - such as introducing Rioja's first sorting table, vinifying the wines in temperature controlled oak vats and ageing them in 100% French oak barrels. With the two Reserva wines, Roda is noted for lots of red berry fruit that is meant for immediate enjoyment, whereas Roda I features blacker fruit and a deeper, more complex nose and mouthfeel.

I wouldn't say that our Roda I hits some of the in-your-face standards of fruit and mouthfeel that some New World wines do, but that can be a good thing. I'll liken it to strategy on the soccer pitch. If you put all your energy into your attacking game, you might find yourself suspect in the defensive half. I like that the winery has straddled both New and Old World sentiments - both offence and defence, if you will. Now, let's see if the Spanish team can match the result at the World Cup.

If they do so, we could be drinking a lot of Spanish wine over the next so many weeks.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

One New Grape Just Screams for Another

I'll readily admit that I'm a sucker for a wine that features intriguing grapes - particularly ones that I haven't tallied yet for the Wine Century Club. I added another last night and I'm about to add #173 now - but I gotta say "It's not getting any easier to find new varieties." Luckily, with BC being a cool climate wine region, we can see the odd experimental attempt to try a new variety - ones that are noted as being particularly suitable for those regions on the edge of being viable wine regions.

Valentin Blattner, a Swiss grape geneticist, breeder and winemaker, has been working in the field (literally and figuratively) since the 1980's to develop disease resistant grapes for cooler climate regions. His hybrids are now grown in Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, Holland, BC, Ontario and the Canadian Maritime provinces. In the last decade or so, he has collaborated directly with a handful of BC winemakers and growers to look at varieties that might work well on Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands.

That means he's also helped increase my Wine Century Club tally a bit here and there. There aren't exactly a lot of wines available in the BC market that feature Blattner hybrids. Not many growers are willing to take a chance on unproven grapes with names that no one will recognize. Further, those growers that are willing don't necessarily produce large quantities of wine - with very little of it, if any, making it to the Vancouver market.  Every once in awhile, though, I'll run across one.

1626.  2009 Salt Spring Vineyards Cabernet Libre (Gulf Islands - BC)

I've previously added three of the Blattner hybrids to my Wine Century Club count - Petite Milo, Epicure, Cabernet Foch - and all of them hailed from Vancouver Island of the Gulf Islands. While the whites might find an easier way into the market, I am fascinated by the thought of "bigger" reds being produced on the costal islands. The couple I've tasted - this Cabernet Libre included - don't exactly match up to the traditional Merlot, Cab, Syrah palate though.

Local wine writer, John Schreiner, finds that Blattner's Cabernet Foch and Cabernet Libre "have retained little of the flavour of the Cabernet Sauvignon in their ancestry. Typically, the wines are leaner, with spicy, earthy flavours." Boo and I found the wine surprisingly big bodied while still maintaining big acidity. Both of us agreed that the wine tasted much more balanced with food than when drinking it on its own. As such, serving it with a group of folks while dining might be more appropriate than just drinking a bottle on our own.

I suppose we could also look at making the bottle last over two nights - but how likely is that going to be around here?

In any event, there's another little wine adventure under the belt. And, with two new grape additions to the wine Century Club in two nights, I might just be able to hit the doppel Century Club membership before I hit my goal of 2001 bottles on The List.